For all of those who do not know, we have recently started a beehive outside of our Millworks location that is now actually producing honey. Recently we sat down for an interview with David Stover, who has been our beekeeping expert for this project.
How did you get into beekeeping and hive construction?
People, always ask that question, as far as getting started. This is like my ninth year doing it, so I haven’t been doing it that long – but I have become somewhat obsessed with keeping bees. So, ten years ago in the late winter, it was saturday morning and I was sitting at home with my wife, reading the Richmond Times Dispatch, drinking coffee, having a little breakfast, and there is this little article in the Richmond paper about a bee keeping workshop. I was reading that and I just thought it sounded interesting. I knew nothing about keeping bees; I had never thought about keeping bees. Although, I liked working in the garden and being outside, when I was a kid I used to collect bugs, look at bugs, and I was interested in tadpoles, frogs, turtles, and things like that. So, I saw that article, read it, turned to my wife and said, ” I think I’ll do this, this looks interesting – a beekeeping workshop.” She looked and said,” Okay, fine.” And, beekeeping workshop came and went and I never did anything about it. I didn’t apply, I didn’t call up and sign up – I just fluffed it off. So, that year went by, and literally the next year, about the same time, end of winter, reading the saturday paper, there is that same article again – the Ashland beekeeping group is having their yearly learn how to be a beekeeper workshop. I said to my wife,” Hey here’s that article again, I didn’t do anything about it last year but this year I’m gonna do it this year.” She just sort of rolled her eyes and gave me “right, sure you are.” So, I was sort of challenged then, I couldn’t back down, I had to do it. I took the workshop, learned about beekeeping. Then just very serendipitously, cause finding bees – it’s easy to build beehives – but finding bees is the hard part, and I was able to find some bees from this old time beekeeper guy. He got me started and just one thing led to another.
Whats the most difficult part about keeping bees?
Keeping them alive. As everyone knows, you read and see stuff out there, pollinators as a general species are not doing well and their are many different reasons for that. It’s the perfect storm of what could go wrong – going wrong. Keeping honey bees alive, especially in the winter time is the hardest thing.
Several petitions have been coming up to “Save the Bees” lately, one in particular I can recall about the use of a certain seeds with pesticides that kill bees – neonicotinoids. Can you speak about why it is so important to that we support the protection of bees?
I mean its important to support, in any way that you can, the whole pollination group of insects; whether it is: honey bees, yellow jackets, carpenter bees, bumble bees, sweat bees, wasps, butterflies, anything that is out there, because they do a tremendous job at sustaining the life we live. Through vegetables, food, pollinating things that give us shade, such as trees. You mentioned the neonicotinoids which are a systemic insecticide that are part of the seed treatment for mainly corn, soybean, and probably some other crops that are out there – but in the U.S. corn and soybean are the two huge monocultures. That is a nasty pesticide because it is in the plant all the time and it does affect whatever insect goes to it, not just the ones they’re trying to keep away from it. For me, it goes beyond that into the fact that there is no need for the general homeowner to use, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides on anything that they grown in their yard – you can grow good stuff without using chemicals. People need to learn how to do that, it’s more work, it’s harder to do, but it is certainly much more gratifying than spraying a bunch of crap in your yard. I really wanna come down on all those companies that promise to come spray your yard and get rid of mosquitos, it doesn’t just kill mosquitos – it kills everything that’s in your yard. It doesn’t discriminate against any insect, and its just that we have to learn how to deal with our environment in a completely different way. Humans have got away from being part of their environment; we sit in air-conditioned buildings 40 hours a week, we drive an air-conditioned car back and forth from those workplaces, and to air-conditioned homes we don’t want to go in our back yards because their are mosquitos. So we call a company and they get rid of them, but then their in someone else’s yard, and we kill all the pollinators. We just need to rethink how we deal with life.
For locations such as our Millworks Hive, what do the bees pollinate without a variety of flowers present?
Honey bees will travel in a two, three, four mile radius to collect nectar and pollen for their colonies. So they travel wide – wide areas and the biggest nectar sources and pollen sources, in early spring, the big nectar flow are the trees. Maple trees are the first thing that really blooms and they get tons of pollen from that. Later in the spring in May we just finished the tree blooms Tulip Poplar and the Black Locust Tree bloom then the wild raspberries or blackberries that are out there; thats a huge nectar source and pollen source for them. Now that its the middle of June and we have this horrible dry period, the nectar source is pretty much drying up, pollen is getting less and less, and they are not collecting a whole lot. Honey bees really go by the weather patterns, when there is great weather, things are blooming, they collect tons of food and whatever they have collected now has to last them pretty much through the winter. There will be a bloom of goldenrod later in the late summer/early fall; goldenrod, asters, and that is a very beneficial fall bloom for them. Right now they are just scattered sporadic little blooms of things that they are collecting small amounts of nectar and pollen.
Does this give a distinct flavor profile to the honey that the bees produce?
Yes, definitely. I just call it all Wildflower honey cause I just collect whatevers there, from whatever source – I don’t care really. There are artisanal honey producers that really work hard to collect honey from very specific sources at very specific times of the year. You can really taste a big difference in different blooms at different times of the year and there a re different colors. Some places even have honey tastings the same as you’d have wine tastings with all of the different adverbs and adjectives to describe the palette of the honey.